• Gaelic: ceile, servant; De, of God


Their origin is unknown, but the Culdees first appear as holy men who loved solitude and lived by the labour of their hands in Ireland and Scotland. Gradually they came together in community, and, though never attaining the position of a religious order, they replaced the Columban monasticism. Saint Maelruan drew up rules for the Culdees of Tallaght, Ireland, but there is no evidence that this rule was widely accepted. In the 8th century, secular priests were added, who lived according to monastic rules. At Clonmacnoise, Ireland, in the 11th century the Culdees were laymen and married, while those at Monahincha and Scattery Island gave way to the regular canons. At Armagh regular canons were introduced into the cathedral church and henceforth took precedence of the Culdees; but six of the latter continued a corporate existence, and these Armagh Culdees long outlived their brethren in Ireland, dying out about 1603. Their estates were given to a new Protestant body of 8 members, called “vicars choral,” incorporated in 1627 by Charles I, which body, reduced to two members, exists at the Protestant cathedral of Armagh today. In 1633 the last mention is made of the Catholic Culdees in the announcement of Archbishop Hugh O’Reilly, the Catholic primate, that he had incorporated the College of Culdees in the Catholic Cathedral Chapter of Armagh. There was one English establishment at York. Its date of disappearance is unknown, as is that of the single house at Bardsey, Wales. The 300 years dating from 750 may be called the Culdee period of the Church in < ahref="patrons-of-scotland">Scotland. It was this “Culdean Church” which Saint Margaret found when she came from England in 1067 to marry King Malcolm Canmore, and while she lived they retained their position fully. The predominant influence they once had in affairs of Church and State steadily decreased from c.1332 with the advent of newer religious orders and Norman chivalry. The history of the 13 establishments in Scotland is almost identical with that of the Irish houses; gradually all of them converged on Saint Andrews (the primatial see) before the Reformation; they finally disappeared in 1616 when their lands were annexed to the See of Saint Andrews.

MLA Citation

  • “Culdees”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 25 November 2019. Web. 20 September 2021. <>